Category Archives: Texts

How to prioritise the intellectual work of the global South?

A statement and question offered to participants of the symposium Diálogo Trans-Pacífico y Sur-Sur: Perspectivas Alternativas a la Cultura y Pensamiento Eurocéntrico y Noroccidental, University of Santiago, 8-9 January 2013

Raewyn Connell

Professor of Sociology, University of Sydney

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings from Sydney! I am a sociologist, interested in both empirical research and social theory. I have been working for many years on the critique of Northern dominance in social science, and on the positive task of building a globally inclusive social science. Only this, I believe, will realize social science’s potential to be the democratic self-knowledge of society on a world scale. This project requires continuing encounters between intellectual workers across the global South. My book Southern Theory, published in 2007, records both the critique of Northern social science, and my encounters with social thought in Africa, Iran, Latin America and India, as well as Australia. Since publishing that book I have been studying Southern formations of gender theory, and I am currently working on Southern analyses of neoliberalism, and on the uses of Southern perspectives in applied social science.


The question I would pose for your consideration is: How do we develop curricula in higher education – especially in theory courses, which are both vital and difficult to change – that prioritize the intellectual work of the global South? What are the growth points around which new teaching agendas can crystallize?

¿Cómo podemos desarrollar planes de estudio en la educación superior – especialmente en cursos teóricos, que son a la vez importante y difícil de cambiar – que priorizan el trabajo intelectual de los países del Sur? ¿Cuáles son los puntos de crecimiento en torno al cual las nuevas agendas de enseñanza pueden cristalizar?

The Cultural Cringe and Social Science

There is a problem about intellectual work in settler-colonial societies that deeply affects social science.

The problem was named “The Cultural Cringe” by the Australian critic Arthur Phillips, in a pungent article published in 1950 by the new literary magazine Meanjin. Phillips diagnosed “a disease of the Australian mind”, an assumption of inferiority vis-a-vis England, a deep dependence on imported judgments and tastes. Phillips shrewdly observed that this resulted in “the estrangement of the Australian Intellectual” from Australian society, a disdainful attitude that equated the rough, the uncultured and the local.

Phillips was talking about literature and art, but the same issues arise in science. The Beninese philosopher Paulin Hountondji described the situation in his important 1997 book Endogenous Knowledge. There is a global division of labour: data are gathered in the colony, but theory is made in the metropole. Scientists from the global South travel to the USA and Europe for training and recognition, learn Northern intellectual frameworks, try to get published in Northern journals. Hountondji calls this attitude “extraversion”, being oriented to external sources of authority. It is found both in settler and colonized societies.

What Phillips called a disease is better analyzed by Hountondji as part of a global economy of culture. It’s structural, not personal. Ultimately it has to do with the way the public realm is created in colonial societies.

The colonizers claimed to have the true religion or a superior civilization, but what they crucially had was warships, muskets, cavalry, cannon, steam power and the ruthlessness to use them for conquest. As Hilaire Belloc observed,

Whatever happens, we have got/ The Maxim gun, and they have not.

Imperial force enabled settlement, up to the point of demographic dominance over indigenous people, and demographic dominance was mainly achieved by immigration. The colonial state achieved local order, so far as it could – the colonies were violent places – through imperial law and bureaucracy. Settler schools and newspapers were modelled from the start on those of the home country. When the colonists felt they were up to universities (the 1850s, in Sydney and Melbourne) they imported both the academics and the curricula direct from what was, without irony, called the mother country.

Settler colonialism thus produced a truncated public realm. The leading institutions and technologies were developed in the metropole; most of the capital that underpinned colonial development came from the metropole; and key political decisions were also made there. In 1939 the Prime Minister famously announced on radio that “Great Britain has declared war on [Germany], and that, as a result, Australia is also at war”. The gesture was repeated as recently as 2003, when the Prime Minister of the day sent Australian troops into Iraq.

For social sciences in a settler-colonial society, this produces an “as-if” form of knowledge. Research is done as if the researcher were standing in the metropole, or as if the society being studied were part of the metropole. Thus, Australian psychology is full of experiments using scales developed in the United States, Australian economics is full of models developed in the United States, Australian sociology is full of concepts developed in France.

When these studies are published, there is normally no discussion of whether such ideas really apply in a settler-colonial context. What might be called the productive arc of methodology – the movement of thought in which concepts and methods are generated from actual social experience – is missing, in settler society’s truncated public realm of social science. That arc was traversed in the metropole. Its results, packaged as theory or methodology, are simply imported.

To extraverted thought, what is imported from the metropole simply is theory or method – no other meaning for those terms is recognized. So, on the rare occasions where an Australian journal conducts a conceptual discussion, it is conducted wholly within European or US parameters, and often by invited European and US writers, at that. Australian social scientists writing theory usually do so by commentary on European and US theorists.

The fact that the settler population is mostly white, English-speaking, and has European ancestors creates an illusion of identity. Politicians encourage this by constantly talking of Australia as a “Western country”, a nonsense term that a surprising number of social scientists still use.

Current trends in universities are worsening the problem. Neoliberal policy-makers drive Australian universities and academics to compete with each other. The key metrics for this competition involve recognition in the metropole, especially, publication and citation in highly-ranked metropolitan journals. Since metropolitan journals operate within metropolitan intellectual cultures (we can’t expect them to do otherwise!), the message for Australian scientists is clear: do it the US/EU way, if you want promotion and grants in Australia.

Social science in a settler-colonial society therefore tends to split between an abstracted theoretical discourse, conducted as if in the metropole with little or no local reference, and an applied social science in which methodologies developed in the metropole are applied to empirical studies of local social problems.

The social problems – class, patriarchy, racism, environmental destruction, and more – are all too real. But the methodologies are rarely sufficient to understand them in depth. Why? Because the social problems of settler society partly arise from the nature of settler colonialism itself, especially from its truncated public realm. When key determinants are located in the relationship with the metropole, or in the dynamics of the world economy, a social science using methods and concepts developed for the metropole to describe itself, and constantly looking for authority to the metropole, is in a specific way displaced. Like the literary culture criticized by Phillips, though trying to describe local society it is estranged from it.

Estrangement of intellectuals is recognized, indeed a cliché of Australian cultural history. There are also well-known responses to it. One is the angry rejection of the cultural cringe in the name of an anti-imperial nationalism. That was the note struck by Bulletin school of writers in the 1890s, especially the radicals who associated English culture with a despised upper class in the colonies. Settler intellectuals don’t have Aboriginal culture to fall back on, though the “Jindyworobak” movement poets of the 1930s tried – the result being an arrogant act of colonial re-appropriation, as well as some interesting poetry. Some go into exile, but in a way that inverts the exile stories known since Ovid. It is exile to the metropole. The result can be the haunted double vision of the world seen in The Man Who Loved Children, the great work of Australia’s first modernist novelist, Christina Stead, who wrote it in exile in the United States.

These responses are available to social scientists too, and we can trace them through the history of social sciences in settler societies. The greatest social scientist Australia has produced, the pre-historian Vere Gordon Childe, went down the track of exile, working in Europe for most of his career from the 1920s on. He came back to the Blue Mountains near Sydney to die.

The problem can’t be solved on an individual basis. It requires collective and institutional change, on a scale that is only now becoming clear. It requires, in fact, a re-making of social science on a world scale. It is worth enquiring whether there is a specific role for settler-colonial intellectuals in that re-making.

Raewyn Connell is Professor of Sociology at University of Sydney – see

Heading South: a meditation on the ‘ruins’ of the South Project

This is paper by Pamela Zeplin was presented in the panel ‘Cultural production: Where to put baskets in an art gallery? ‘The place of traditional cultures in art history’, which was part of Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South, a colloquium organised by SAVAH under the aegis of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 – 15 January 2011


Geographically and historically situated ‘south of the west’, Australian art institutions are yet to fully embrace Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures of the global south, despite recent incursions into the Asia-Pacific region. Notwithstanding claims to cultural inclusivity, Melbourne’s 2008 CIHA Congress, for example, barely registered the presence of Diasporic African, Pacific Island and Latin American communities dwelling in this island continent. It was as if the South Project, another significant local initiative with international cross-cultural reach, had slipped below CIHA’s Eurocentric horizon. With a visionary five year program interrogating conceptual and geo-political understandings of ‘south’, The South Project was last sighted somewhere between Yogyakarta and Noumea, although it is rumoured to be still in existence. This ambitious endeavour was inevitably doomed by idealism as it journeyed between Santiago and Soweto, Melbourne, Wellington and Yogyakarta with its ‘cargo’ of lateral connections between art and craft communities, exhibitions, workshops, residencies and gatherings. Surprisingly, these peripatetic events attracted little critical attention, despite initiating a complex web of weird and wonderful events and relationships. The paper critically examines this program as a possible alternative to biennale models of ‘exchange’ and ruminates on the South Project’s remains.


Dr Pamela Zeplin is a writer and artist based in Adelaide, where she is Portfolio Leader of Postgraduate Research Education (Art, Architecture & Design) at the University of South Australia. With a long-standing research focus in regional cultures in the Asia-Pacific and southern hemisphere, Pamela regularly publishes and actively participates in national and international events throughout the region. In 2005 and 2006 she delivered plenary addresses at South Project gatherings in Wellington and Santiago. With Dr. Paul Sharrad in 2009, Pamela convened a funded national workshop, The Big Island: Promoting Contemporary Pacific Art and Craft in Australia at the University of Wollongong, resulting in Art Monthly Australia’s landmark ‘OzPacifica’ edition, specifically devoted to Australian Pacific art. In 2008 Pamela received a national Distinguished Researcher Award from the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools.

First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the Indigenous owners of this land upon and thank the SAVAH team for such a welcoming and stimulating environment.

Where to put baskets in an art gallery?

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Before I ruminate on the ruins – or otherwise – of The South Project, let’s begin with baskets since my paper has migrated to this panel, Where to put baskets in an art gallery?’ from the now abandoned panel ‘Interrogating the Global South ‘. During this process, the following discussion become a more personalised and ‘basketised’ narrative – that has loosened a few strands during the process.

This photograph shows Pacific Storms, a ground breaking 2009 exhibition in Australia of work by artists from the Pacific-Oceania neighbourhood and those of Pacific heritage resident in the world’s largest continental island, Australia. You will notice the baskets and also numerous other weavings festooning Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery in northern Queensland alongside contemporary art; photographs, videos, paintings, and poetry texts.

Although no longer fresh and lush, these fibre textiles remain as more than dehydrated relics of performative opening ceremonies; they represent lingering testimony to creative expression that can be participatory, cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional in nature – including, notably, children’s furniture and programs actively inviting art and play.

So, you might wonder, what is so groundbreaking among the textiles here? Firstly, Pacific Storms represented a rare exhibition of contemporary Oceanic – and predominantly ‘Melanesian’ – art in this country, even though 400,000 of its population (or2%) are of Pacific Islander heritage.

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Secondly, this landmark exhibition took place not in a major institution, like Queensland Art Gallery, renowned for the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art but in a regional gallery in rural northern Queensland. Thirdly, baskets are not generally encountered in Australia’s sharp and shiny art world unless they form part of an Indigenous – generally Australian Indigenous –exhibition. So there’s something significant happening here – something about generosity, conviviality, hospitality, inclusiveness. Perhaps, even ‘relational aesthetics’, although this recently ‘discovered’ art ‘fashion’ features less as a rationale for curator of Pacific Storms’ Papua New Guinean-Australian, Joycelin Leahy, than ‘the Pacific way’ things are done in this part of the global south. Ironically, few Australians, including art cognoscenti, have had access to these indigenous and ‘southern’ ways of knowing – and presenting – given our continued reverence for northerly trans-Atlantic models of knowledge production.

In fact, the Pacific region has long been considered Australia’s ‘backyard’ and in political, economic and cultural terms, a place of tacky tourism – and/or tornadoes and trouble. And, until 2007 with the Rudd Labor Government’s revised regional foreign policy, the Oceanic/Pacific region was collectively regarded by Australian governments post 1975 as a ‘basket case’.

CIHA 32nd Congress

This near invisibility of Pacific and southern hemisphere art and culture still characterises major art events, including the prestigious ‘parent’ body of this Colloquium, CIHA International Committee of the History of Art, although yesterday’s comments by CIHA committee members addresses gave us cause for hope. CIHA’s so-called ‘ground-breaking’ 2008 32nd Congress in Melbourne, Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict, Migration and Convergence aimed to ‘to make people of different nationalities engage in debate’ and was declared by convenor (and now CIHA President), Professor Jaynie Anderson as the ’first meeting of an international congress of the history of art in the southern hemisphere [to] epitomiz[e] the expansion of the field throughout the globe’[1].

Whether or not this claim can be validated, this ‘Art History Olympics’ certainly made an impact on Australian art historians, attracting almost 700 registrations from 50 countries[2]. With one exception[3], however, among 226 presentations, including 42% of papers from Australia and 10% (22) from ‘other’ Southern Hemisphere countries[4], the only ‘Pacific’ featured was in two presentations of New Zealand’s – not Australia’s – urban ‘Pasifika’. Moreover, only four Australian Indigenous speakers presented amongst 74 Australian papers, although many of these concerned issues of indigeneity. There were two speakers from ‘Africa’ (South Africa and Cameroon), a country not, however, considered an ‘appropriate’ location for the next full CIHA Congress (to be held in Nuremburg in 2012). This decision catalysed the staging of the Johannesburg colloquium[5], which was endorsed by CIHA following the Melbourne event, but not financially assisted by the international ‘parent’ body[6].

Astonishingly, the Melbourne-based South Project’s intensive four year dialogue across the Southern Hemisphere did not appear on the Melbourne Congress’ agenda[7], where neither baskets nor wider craft discourses were apparent. For all CIHA’s cross-cultural claims, at $AUD660 (R4454) many attendees expressed disappointment at the congress’ elitist and inhospitable environment[8]. Eurocentrism dies hard, it seems, even in the highest echelons of well-intentioned art history.

South Project & ‘The Basket’

The South Project, on the other hand, by 2008 had demonstrated over five years that art gatherings – even conferences- can be about more than a schedule of topics. Although Pacific Storms was not part of The South Project, it might well have been; its spirit embodied much of what this enduring Melbourne-based endeavour successfully achieved. And baskets and weavings provide appropriate metaphors for both Pacific Storms and The South Project; traditionally crafted within social and performative story-telling situations, baskets are containers with capacity for plenitude, exchange and countless uses. Woven from diverse materials and designs, baskets are strong, porous and receptive and nothing if not portable. Importantly, like the South Project, they are not intended to last forever.

A combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘basket cultures’ as well as contemporary art informed by cross-cultural social and political engagement, provided the architectural structure of The South Project. This was envisioned in and for the most culturally conscious of Australian cities – Melbourne. By 2003 this city was, ironically, ‘sliding off the international art map’[9] without an ongoing biennale or triennial event. The South Project intended to fill this void but in a radically lateral rather than vertical direction so as to explore the possibilities offered by south-south transactions. In an Australian art climate unsympathetic to localism or craft, this project challenged and enlarged understandings of what ‘south’ could signify within and beyond its Eurocentric contexts. ‘South’ was thus situated by this new organisation as much as ‘a question as a location’, where attitude’ mattered as much as ‘latitude’[10] .

A unique, highly ambitious, and visionary program, The South Project was inaugurated in 2004 by Kevin Murray with manager, Magdalena Moreno under the auspices of the Craft Victoria organisation. It was carefully developed through personal professional networks cultivated over time[11]. This enterprise encompassed a vast practitioner-based program comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous craftspersons, artists, writers, curators, scholars, and social activists, thickly intertwining a continuous web of exchanges, exhibitions, residencies, symposia, workshops and publications across different places and times in – and beyond – the Antipodes. Significantly, until 2009 a highly developed children’s program, Southkids provided an essential and ongoing component of South Project’s broader endeavour, enabling children across the Southern Hemisphere to work with professional visual arts and craftspersons[12]. With the exception of a few Australian state art galleries (namely Queensland Art Gallery), the acknowledgement of children as an integral part of the project was remarkable at this time.

South 1 Gathering

Launched in Melbourne in 2004 with miniscule staff resources and a proposed five year lifespan, The South Project stimulated conversations between artists and communities of the south whether defined by hemisphere or by concept. These dialogues might be visual, verbal, tactile or textual, embracing different shapes, textures and tones. The inaugural gathering with hundreds of delegates was astounding.

In a conventional auditorium with workshop spaces, a dazzling diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘southerners’ from fourteen countries came together to re-imagine possibilities for weaving previously un-dreamed of connections. ‘South 1’, in Susan Cochrane’s words, ‘encouraged all kinds of responses: philosophical and whimsical, creative and conceptual, contesting and renewing ideas, in the first gathering of its kind’[13]. Presentations ranged from Aboriginal Australian weavers and writers and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) artists lamenting their lost language, to Argentinian activists witnessing for the politically ‘disappeared’, community architects from South Africa and Antarctic voyagers. Taking its cue from Mbulelo Mzamane’s inspiring keynote address[14], an extraordinary spirit of ‘ubuntu’ suffused the event. This atmosphere transformed a conference into an intensely moving and uplifting experience where delegates (even art historians!) openly wept and embraced during the closing ceremony; for those attending it felt like re-uniting with family.

Southern journeys

While The South Project continued to catalyse numerous strands of diverse and intersecting activity, by 2005 its annual gatherings began literally weaving their way across southern latitudes[15]. Wellington (New Zealand) hosted the first gathering outside Australia (administered by the Melbourne South Project team collaborating with local hosts). From this South Western Pacific location, the next South Project travelled to the South Eastern Pacific, to Santiago (Chile) in 2006, and in 2007 to Soweto/Johannesburg, this last event organised locally by Clifford Charles and team, with support from Melbourne staff.

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

For me, the highlight of this event was the Southkids workshop at Belle Primary School in Orlando West, Soweto, particularly the way these kids came back for more, ‘crashing’ South Project’s adult craft workshops at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre the next day. Such an intrusion by children would be unthinkable in my country. At the kids’ workshop I met Muelo Lebenya, an artist volunteer working at the school who constructed ‘baskets’ from recycled vinyl LP records. I returned to the school four days before this Colloquium to find it dramatically expanded and now renamed Mbuyisa Makhubu Primary School, after the young man who was photographed holding Hector Pieterson, the twelve year old school child martyred during the 1976 Soweto Uprising[16].

Following this South Project imbizo, the Melbourne-based organisation was re-structured under Interim Director, Magdalena Moreno and a new board since Murray’s resignation as Director of Craft Victoria in early 2008. Murray continued involvement with South Project activities, including the 2008 Johannesburg/Soweto Imbizo. Nevertheless, the organisation separated from its former craft base at Craft Victoria via an ‘exit strategy’ as part of a new corporate makeover. Up to this point, a new prospectus recorded that between 2006 and 2007 alone, 84 events had attracted audiences of 33,000 in addition to 227,000 website visits[17].

Time does not permit a detailed analytical or theoretical account of South Project’s major gatherings, its related programs, myriad partner organisations and participants – let alone its lively internal politics. Suffice to say this organisation’s multiple parameters and ever-expanding connections had become a complex weave of intersecting and pulsating nodes between people, ideas and objects around the globe, and from many reports, anecdotes and statistics, a generative and useful platform for practitioner exchange.

Instead of South Project’s grand finale originally planned for 2008, a focus group style of symposium in Melbourne[18] was assembled where d a Yogyakarta Gathering was proposed for 2009, ‘the intention of [which was] above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION’[19]. This was to be followed by a grand triennial South Festival for 2010, ’focus[ing] on Melbourne as a cultural hub’, after which would be a Pacific gathering in francophone New Caledonia in 2011 and from thence to Rio de Janeiro in 2012. This ambitiously expanded schedule was, however, not to be, despite being set out in a glossy prospectus polished with corporate language describing KPI deliverables, ‘cultural capital brand[ing]’ and an impressive ‘investment logic map’[20]. Significantly, the word craft seldom appeared in the document and, apart from two images of weavers, baskets were not to be seen. Metaphorically speaking, The South Project ‘basket’ of multiple dimensions had been stitched up and hermetically sealed – economically, politically and culturally.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Notwithstanding South Project’s elaborate new strategic plan, the organisation was, surprisingly, soon de-funded by major institutional sponsors and the 2009 gathering in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) proceeded with almost no financial support[21]. What went wrong? The World Financial Crisis? Too many Festivals? Too much Melbourne focus? Not enough Pacific focus? More likely, the following factors played a role in the project’s demise: a lack of critical review coverage by external arts writers and an efficient but extraordinarily demanding administrative structure that was constantly required to be on the move between Melbourne and ‘field’ locations across the South. A call for donations went out across the networks in 2009. But not all was lost; such was the loyalty engendered by The South Project that most Yogyakarta-bound artists self-funded their participation, unlike other waged participants/curators long associated with the South Project who withdrew. As Zara Stanhope has noted: I think people are hungry to get out and experience those other cultures…And artists do it so well. They go off and live on the smell of an oily rag to have those experiences”.[22] Despite – or because of – a severe paucity of resources, a down-to-earth exchange took place in Yogyakarta. Here, local Indonesian artists politely but firmly challenged the privileged cultural naïveté of a number of [inappropriately selected] emerging artists, predominantly from Melbourne, whose steep learning curves offered valuable opportunities to learn about ‘real’ relational aesthetics away from the theorised and insulated precincts of familiar urban art spaces at home. The event became a grass roots encounter on concrete floors, grass and cyberspace in a city where craft plays a significant role in contemporary art and life. Ironically, baskets as well as designer T-shirts were for sale in the main exhibiting venue, Kedai Kebun contemporary art space, which epitomises Indonesian artists’ necessary capacity for resourcefulness.

Four days of four hour long improvised performance culminating in Kraton tea ceremony complete with furniture music/hand made instruments, live call to prayer, crickets. Frogs, bejak, medicinal root vegetables, and sugar-powered gong sculpture, various field recordings from bali and Jogjakarta, aquarium equipment, found materials, etc. ‘ [sic].

Yogyakarta exchanges continued via a small post-event exhibition and residencies in Melbourne[23], while independent collaborative projects initiated in Yogya have maintained momentum, even without external funding. In Australia, this is unusual in assisted cross-cultural projects.

Re-considering ruins

On ruins one can begin to build. Anyhow, looking out from ruins one clearly sees; there are no obstructing walls’. (Dame Rose Macaulay)[24]

In terms of its past ambitious range and scale of activities, The South Project may now appear as ‘ruins’ but it continues to facilitate south-south and multicultural projects, all be they in reduced capacity through online networks linked with, for a time, a small alternative gallery in a Melbourne shopping mall[25]. In this way, contemporary visual artists rather than craft practitioners have continued to characterise the program’s curatorial focus, which, it may be argued, has contributed to the organisations’ diminished social texture and following.

I had intended to lament the unfortunate demise of this remarkable phenomenon known as The South Project. It has been an important part of my life since 2004 but after six years I realise I probably need to get over it and continue researching in and of the south – including the Australian Pacific – in different ways. In any case, strong links have been established through various South Project activities between many people and these continue to be maintained – as the Yogyakarta experience demonstrated, outside the structures of a facilitating organisation. It is remarkable, nevertheless, that such a nimble and dynamic venture could continue to be relevant and exciting over such a long period of time. At this event in Johannesburg and elsewhere I am reminded, in meeting up with previous South Project participants, of how those initial professional and personal connections can and do remain engaged through the South Project ‘Diaspora’ – with or without a capital G Gathering.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Thus it’s appropriate to conclude with this 2008 image of Taman Sari (Water Palace) ruins in Yogyakarta following one of a number of recent major earthquakes, A year after this photograph was taken Yogyakarta was the site of The South Project’s final gathering ‘abroad’. Here and in previous gatherings this organisation provided remarkable models for consideration of what Domenico de Clario refers to as ‘southness’: ‘It follows’, he suggests, ‘ that we must turn our attention to the quality of what constitutes our immediate reality, and love it more and better.’[26] Significantly, the photographer of this image has angled the shot skywards, looking upwards and beyond the ruins.

If we consider statistics alone, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of people have been made aware of their ‘immediate reality’, directly or virtually, through The South Project[27]. Finally, and of more consequence than these impressive statistics is the fact that legions of Southkids across the southern hemisphere can now look up into southern skies and, hopefully, more confidently identify their own place in the global south – where ideas, things and events (including conferences) can be done differently – and sometimes better than those imposed from above.

The vital point for identity…is that the antipodes is not a place so much as it is a relation, one not of our own choosing but one which also enables us.”

(Peter Beilharz, 1997)


[1] ‘The history of the International Committee of the History of Art suggests what many people throughout the world have recognized: art and the discourses around it are increasingly global. Art and its history are not only created, but discussed in one form or another on all the inhabited continents of the earth. Globalism has thus also assumed an art historical aspect: indeed it has been described as art history’s most pressing issue. But how can global issues in art history take form in theory or practice? What are the possibilities for a world art history?’. CIHA International Committee of the History of Art 32nd Congress: Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict: Migration: Convergence, The University of Melbourne, January 13-18 2008. Online: Accessed 6 January 2011.

[2] ‘Melbourne’s passion fills the house at ‘Art History Olympics’, The University of Melbourne Voice, Vol 2, No 1, February 2008.

[3] Childs, Elizabeth, ‘Exchange: Gifting, identity and writing history in fin-de-siecle Tahiti’, paper presented at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, The University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[4] Of the papers by Australian-based presenters, 33% were from The University of Melbourne, CIHA’s host institution.

[5] ‘First call for papers: Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’, Southern Perspectives, Online: Accessed December 15 2010.

“CIHA has recently been addressing concerns about the unequal distribution of resources around the globe and challenges from post-colonial societies to the older methods and concepts of western art history. At the CIHA congress in Melbourne in January 2008, one of the key issues for discussion was the extent to which we need to re-think the discipline of the history of art “in order to establish cross-cultural dimensions as fundamental to its scope, method and vision”. SAVAH proposes continuing these discussions in the colloquium ‘Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’ to be held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in January, 2011. A principal focus of the discussions, with particular reference to South Africa, will be how the study of art from the African continent is often impeded by a totalising notion of an undifferentiated ‘Africa’. This belies the histories, political trajectories and regional differences of its many communities, nations and states… We do not envision covering all aspects and areas of Africa and the Global South, but we shall use the Global South construct as a framework to focus on Africa and in particular South Africa. The aim is to complicate the history of art and the relationship between histories in the Global South and the ‘north’ or ‘west’”.

[6] Conversations with SAVAH president Dr Federico Freschi and Professor Anitra Nettleton, Johannesburg, January 14 2011. In obtaining CIHA affiliation, the small SAVAH organisation funded and/or facilitated accommodation and business class airfares for a number of visits to Johannesburg by members of the CIHA Committee executive, including attendance by these speakers at the SAVAH event in January 2011.

[7] The South Project elicited only passing criticism, as ‘diminish[ing] the artistic culture of Asia’. Marravillas, Francis, ‘Art Histories at the crossroads: “Asian” art in “Australia”’, presentation at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[8] While (optional) receptions at Government House and the National Gallery of Victoria were lavish, the CIHA congress $AUD660 conference fee included no lunch or refreshments, except for inadequate tea/coffee facilities for long lines of patient delegates.

‘Delegate Welcome Packs’ supplied an impressive if cumbersome 269 page volume of presenters’ abstracts and biographies but no schedule summary with which to navigate up to ten parallel sessions per day. Information about (many) changes to the schedule were unavailable, except online, and there was much discussion about lack of courtesy and hospitality by the professional conference organisers.

[9] ‘With Australia’s second city “sliding off the international art map”, [Peter Hil] proposed that it was time to invent an event where “so-called rival cities in the region ” could “work together inclusively rather than facing off at each other as if at a sporting match”. This would, he suggested, “fully integrate the region within the global art world”’. Fuller, Peter, in Hill, Peter.( 2006), cited in Zeplin, Pamela, Horizontal Relations: The South Project goes to Santiago’, ‘Publications’, The South Project. Online: Accessed 2 January 2011.

[10] Rankin, E, ‘South 1: Common Ground’, The South Project, Online, Accessed 11 May 2006.

[11] For more details about the 2007 South Project’s aims and objectives, see The South Project. Online:

Accessed 2 January 2011. ‘ The South Project is the major international arts project that brings together the distinct voices of the southern hemisphere through south-south dialogue and cross-cultural exchange. Making its platform in the south, it supports contemporary dynamic cultural practice and promotes the experience and understanding of visual culture for global audiences. We are by nature a lateral organisation in our structure and philosophy: consultation is essential. We are dedicated to ongoing rigorous investigation of contemporary cultural life that challenges & inspires audiences & the art community…’.

[12] South Kids, ‘…students had worked with nine international artists who had originated from countries from Chile, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea, Indonesia, Mauritius, Maldives,Fiji, New Zealand and of course Australia. Some of the workshops over the three years included learning skills in the areas of puppetry and mask making, jewellery design, stencil printing, weaving, carving, sculptural construction, performance and curatorship, painting and drawing. South Kids have been very fortunate to have the opportunity of working with such a diverse group of people and to be able to experience the one on one contact with each artist’.

[13] Cochrane, Susan, ‘Towards Ubuntu: The Way of the South’, Artlink, Vol 24 no 4, 2004.

[14]…abantu (Bantu languages) we call ubuntu –the sum total of humanising values as the First Nations People of the South understand them…It rejects the regressive and takes due cognizance of progressive strains in all cultures that it harnesses, and teaches…[Ubuntu] eschews chauvinism and cultural imperialism – the insistence by a group that their ways of doing things are superior beyond compare – as well as narcissism and ethnocentrism – the incapacity to look beyond Self. Ubuntu humbles and teaches…a fitting and uplifting philosophy on which to predicate a movement of re-humanisation.’ Mzamane, Mbulelo Vizikhungo, ‘Of Minks and Men’, ‘Beyond Mythification: Constituting a Southern Identity’, Conference Paper from South 1: The Gathering, The University of Melbourne, 1-4 July 2004, p. 7. The South Project. Online: Accessed 11 May 2006.

[15] South 1 Melbourne: The Gathering – A New Conversation, July 2004; Wellington Gathering: Between Earth and Sky – Ways of Making a Place in a Placeless World, Wellington, 20-12 October 2005; Crossing Horizons: Context and Community in the South, Santiago (and Valpariso), September 2006; South-South Imbizo, Johannesburg and Soweto, October 2007.

[16] For further details, see ‘Hector Pieterson’, Accessed December 13 2010.

[17] Moreno, M, ‘History of the South Project’, The South Project: A new international arts voice (prospectus), The South Project, Melbourne, 2007? (n.d.), pp. 15,17.

[18] Why Gather?, Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre, The University of Melbourne, 19—20 July , 2008.

[19]’… Delivered through a series of exhibitions, actions, performances, workshops and collaborations, most of which will take in the public domain, the Yogyakarta Gathering in 2009 will be the first time that the South Project has travelled to Asia. Although a select group of Indonesian artists has already participated in South Project activities (such as Heri Dono, Titarubi, Jumaadi, Wulan Dirgantoro, and Dian Fatwa) the South Project has a growing network of potential support, such as the Indonesian Contemporary Art Network amongst others. The South Project also welcomes collaborations from other regions in the South to participate in Yogyakarta 2009. The intention of the Yogyakarta Gathering is above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION…’. ‘2009 South Project Yogyakarta Expression of Interest’, The South Project, 2008. Online: Accessed December 13 2010.…/Yogyakarta_October_Brief_ 2008.pdf

[20] Moreno, M, p. 12.

[21] Perjumpaan Selatan-Selatan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 21 to 25 October 2009

[22] Stanhope, Z, in Andrew Stephens, A,A new world order’, The Age Entertainment, July 5 2008, p. 2.

[23] ‘Tuesday, December 15, 2009 until Sunday, December 20, 2009…Melbourne Reflection Post Yogyakarta South Gathering 2009 The South Project presents in Melbourne a reflection on the 5th International South Gathering in Yogyakarta Indonesia in October 2009 – a collaborative model of engagement bringing together arts projects from Melbourne, Perth, Santiago and Yogyakarta. Opening includes artist talks’. ‘South Project’, Bus Projects, 2009. Online: Accessed December 13 2010.

[24] ‘Dame Rose Macaulay’ [n.d.]. Wise Wisdom on Demand. Online: Accessed December 15 2010.

[25] 2010 South Project Inc., Melbourne 2010: How Can a Network….?, Exhibition, 22 November 2010 – 5 December 2010. 2010 ‘Each concept is an imaginative response to the question of ways of activating people and places by means of a network. Some were planned as hypotheses only, others evolved to works in process, and a number fully intended to be realised by the artist either for this exhibition of ideas or at a future time. All were originated by artists in diverse locations to be seen in Melbourne for this South Project event’.

[26] De Clario, Domenico, ‘South remarks Sunday 20 October 2007’, Unpublished essay, email correspondence, 2007.

[27] Moreno, M., p. 12.

From Tasmania to Patagonia


28 years ago, the Australian Supreme Court banned the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Franklin River, Tasmania, in a case which came to be internationally known as Tasmania v. Commonwealth.

At the beginning of the 1980s, the unemployment rate in Tasmania was 10 per cent (the highest in the country), and the local liberal government together with some big businesses and industries saw the construction of the Franklin dam as the remedy for all evils. This, however, required the flooding of a unique ecosystem, which had been declared as part of the World’s Natural Heritage by UNESCO. Against the plan stood the members of the Wilderness Society and the nascent Green Party who, joined by a number of community associations and independent citizens, proposed a different path to growth: one based on the respect for nature.

Eventually getting the support of the national Labor Party, those opposed to the dam generated the largest environmental campaign in the history of this Southern country. Their main argument was that the dam would not only violate the country laws, but also international agreements to which Australia had subscribed. After five years of protests, lobbying and media work, they triumphed and their story became one of the most quoted in the history of environmental litigation.

I cannot help comparing this case with HidroAysén, a project from the Spanish multinational Endesa (subsidiary of Italian Enel) and Chilean Colbún, which involves the construction of five dams in Chilean Patagonia, to generate 2.750 megawatts –fifteen times more than the aborted Franklin Dam! Whereas the energy that was meant to be produced in Tasmania was at least destined for local consumption, in the Chilean case it is not the Patagonians who are going to get the benefits, but the capital, Santiago, and the big mining industries in the North of the country. After the controversial approval of the Environmental Impact Study of the dams last May, what is now under discussion is the other half of the project: namely, a transmission line of 2.300 kilometers that would cut through six national parks and 11 nature reserves, and would mean chopping over 20 thousand hectares of forests. If approved, this would turn out to be the longest line of direct current in the planet (and probably one of the most inefficient, losing an estimated 10 per cent of the energy on the way).

Some people are more prone to be convinced by arguments, while others are more easily persuaded by shocking images, powerful slogans and even musical jingles. The No Dams movement in Tasmania worked on both fronts effectively. On one hand, they won the support of public figures and intellectuals who repeated the message of what would be at stake if the dam were authorized. Together with the organizers, they led the protests, rallies and road blockades, and they even ended up in jail, together with hundred other campaigners. (At the peak of the movement, the Tasmanian prison system simply collapsed, unable to fit them all). Thanks to generous donations, the No Dams campaign could also be heard on the radio –Let the Franklin flow–, but arguably the most effective way to raise the public’s attention were the spectacular photographs taken by Peter Dombrovskis: emerald waters flowing down a rocky patch of the river, surrounded by dense forests and half covered by the early morning mist. “Could you vote for a party that would destroy this?”, was the question posed under the picture by the Labor party, in the federal elections of 1983. Few voters dared to answer in the affirmative, and Labor won with a large swing.

Another important point is that it was understood from the beginning that the decision whether to approve or reject the Franklin dam was not technical, but political. The solution could not come from a mere cost-benefit analysis, because what was at stake was something priceless, namely, what Tasmania wanted to be and to become. The Green Party and its founder, Bob Brown, clearly saw this and, after the battle was won, remained as crucial actors in the Australian political scene: today they are part of the governing coalition, and Brown is one of the most popular senators countrywide.

Finally, the campaign was not so much about opposing, but overall about proposing an alternative path to development. The No to the dam was a Yes to sustainable growth. Three decades later, the decision has proved to be correct. Today, tourism is the second major economic activity in that state, and gives jobs to half a million Tasmanians, it generates a billion dollars annually and it attracts almost a million visitors. Moreover, Tasmania is Australia’s leader when it comes to the production of renewable energy, which amounts to 87 per cent of its total. This comes mainly from wind farms and hydroelectricity (yes, hydroelectricity, but not from large dams, but from run-of-the-river power plants for local use).

How should the Tasmanian story illuminate the Chilean case? To start with, the Patagonia Sin Represas campaign has powerful arguments on its side. Among them, firstly, that what looks like the cheapest option in the short and maybe medium term will be the most expensive in the long term. Secondly, that HidroAysén is not the only alternative available to solve the country’s purported ‘energy shortage’, because we have other options in abundance, like wind, geothermal energy and sun. Thirdly, that if HidroAysén benefits anybody, it is not the Patagonians. And fourthly, that a number of recent studies show that big, old-fashioned dams like the ones planned are not the clean energy that they claim to be (given increased sediment build-up, the fragmentation of the river ecosystem which results on the massive death of fish, etc.). Patagonia Sin Represas has used all this arguments effectively, and it has also appealed to our senses through powerful images, like those of the beautiful rivers Pascua and Baker, where the dams would be constructed; the huemules, our national emblems who are now an endangered species and many of whom live in the five thousand hectares to be flooded; and the dramatic effect that the transmission line would have on some of the most pristine landscapes in Chile and the world. Moreover, just as the No Dams campaign, Patagonia Sin Represas has progressively won the support of the general public, transforming itself from a narrow environmental movement into a social one. The best example of this is that, after the initial approbation of the dams by the government, on the 10th of May, 30 thousand Chileans gathered in Santiago to march against the decision. In every regional capital from north to south, this support was replicated.

The battle so far has not been easy, though, and will not be. Whereas in the Tasmanian case the company which proposed the project had limited resources to promote it, HidroAysén, backed by the multinational Endesa, has spent millions of dollars lobbying for and publicizing its cause. An important part has been to infuse fear in the population, through threats such as that we are going to be left in the dark, or that the country will not be able to grow if the project is not carried out. Against this, the only option for Patagonia Sin Represas is to stand as a truly social and political movement with the legitimate support of the citizenry. Regarding this point, another important difference with the Tasmanian case is that, while in the latter the political parties swiftly took sides for or against the Franklin Dam, the main political parties in Chile have only made lukewarm declarations in support or against the project. Discounting a couple of independent senators and representatives, it looks as if our politicians are dragging behind the times, unable to take a stance on the national problems that really matter. In the background, members of the right-wing government have been explicit on their support to HidroAysén, and have had no quibbles to use their position of authority to put the message through. Moreover, no Green Party has been born to work for this and other pressing environmental and social causes (whoever the Greens are in Chile, so far, they have not managed to capitalize on the many voices of discontent).



HidroAysén has still a long way to go before its definitive approval, and it is in the meantime that those who oppose it have to come with concrete alternatives. Together with the No to the dams in Patagonia has to come a Yes to other paths not only of energy production but, more widely, of development and even property rights over common goods (under Pinochet´s dictatorship, the Chilean waters were privatized, and it was thanks to this law that Endesa could acquire a significant amount of the water rights, especially in the area of the project). What is at stake here is not only one of the most pristine landscapes in Chile, but in the planet. The conclusion should be obvious: One Patagonia is worth more than a thousand dams.

Author: Alejandra Mancilla, Chilean Journalist and PhD candidate in Philosophy, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE), Australian National University, Canberra.

‘Decoloniality’ in Latin American art

This paper by María Helena Lucero was delivered at the Southern Perspectives series at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies on August 11 2011. It introduces recent Latin American thinking about modernity, particularly in the concept of the ‘decolonial’.

Beyond the Favela, the Rua and the Museum: Reading Hélio Oiticica and Artur Barrio from Decoloniality.
Fluctuations and Paradoxes of a Latin-American Modernity[1]


Thinking about modernity in Latin America implies revising the works of certain artists who have been protagonists of episodes of rupture in the local as well as in the international cultural arena, including the decades of the 1960s and 1970s. As we move in this direction, it is possible to recognize visible signs of a decolonial position in two emblematic artists of Brazilian, and thus Latin American art: Hélio Oiticica (1937-1980)[2] and Artur Barrio (1945). The aim of this paper is to focus on a reading of these two visual trajectories, from a critical perspective that is rooted in what Ramón Grosfoguel and Santiago Castro-Gómez (2007) have called the “decolonial turn,” given that it is necessary to re-evaluate certain cultural itineraries from an adequate epistemic framework if we are to concern ourselves with a Latin American specificity. Decoloniality formulates a vision of knowledge that is compatible with that of postcolonial studies, an aspect that will also be taken under consideration. In this way, the development of theoretical perspectives that aim for the expansion of discussions around the global-south implies pluralistic modes of perception and interpretation of the cultural productions that emerge there.

Hélio Oiticia

Hélio Oiticia

Artur Barrio

Artur Barrio

Hélio Oiticica has gone through different artistic stages, from the two-dimensional paintings we associate with the Frente group in the 1950s to his Cosmococas in 1973, or actions born out of “contra-bólido”’ toward the end of the 1970s. His explorations resulted in theoretically complex, vigorous, and coherent constructions, that drew a personal itinerary that stimulated a “permeable corporeity”: he would activate not just a connection with certain surroundings, but also perceptual channels that, at times of oppression, would work as zones of self-conscious liberation and as decolonial signs. Artur Barrio initiated, toward the end of the 1960s, a series of interventions in urban and peripheral zones in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte. His well-known trouxas ensanguentadas, pieces that alluded to physical remains that were wounded or devastated, operated as provocation devices that altered the perception of the unaware walker-by, who would come across these disturbing packages that were squirted and stained with a violent red as he stepped along the city sidewalk.

Both trajectories have shown us visual propositions that, on one hand, instituted regional expressions within an international artistic arena, expressions that are tied to the subversive character of Latin American conceptualism –a counter-discourse strategy that questioned the political hegemony of the State and the fetishist condition of legitimated art. On the other hand, they openly rejected the military dictatorship that took place in Brazil (1964-1985), which reached its crudest and most violent moment in 1968, when the law AI 5 was passed to suppress the civil and political liberties of Brazilian citizens.


Before developing the concept of decoloniality, let´s consider the academic backgrounds of the members of the modernity-coloniality network, the nucleus from which the concept arises. Certain Latin American intellectuals, among them Aníbal Quijano in 1996 and Ramón Grosfoguel in 1998, while working in U.S. universities, began to debate colonial legacies, the geopolitics of knowledge, and the coloniality of knowledge in Latin America. Up to par with researchers like Santiago Castro-Gómez, Walter D. Mignolo, Edgardo Lander, Fernando Coronil or Enrique Dussel, these intellectuals participated in the activities of the modernity-coloniality network. As do Cultural and Postcolonial Studies, “…el grupo modernidad/colonialidad reconoce el papel esencial de las epistemes, pero les otorga un estatuto económico, tal como el análisis del sistema mundo” [… the Modernity/Coloniality Group recognizes the essential role of epistemes, but it assigns them an economic status, like world-system analysis] (Castro-Gómez, Grosfoguel, 2007: 16-17). This epistemic frame is in some ways linked with the theories of Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak, but it has also avoided automatically introducing postcolonial reflections on the Latin American stage, in order to examine regional singularities and to consolidate a discussion on Occidentalism “by and from” Latin America. It is in this context that the term “post-occidentalism” has gained currency, as a reformulation that conjugates decolonization and postcolonialism, where knowledge is forged in interstitial or hybrid ways, “…pero no en el sentido tradicional de sincretismo o ‘mestizaje’, y tampoco en el sentido dado por Néstor García Canclini a esta categoría, sino en el sentido de ‘complicidad subversiva’” [… but not in the traditional sense of syncretism or ‘mestizaje’, and also not in the sense given by Néstor García Canclini to this category, but in the sense of ‘subversive complicity’] (2007: 20).

Strictly speaking, decoloniality, as it has been mapped out by Castro Gómez and Grosfoguel, insists on the liberating nature of the term and encourages a second decolonization—of an intellectual and cultural nature, in comparison with a first decolonization that is restricted to the legal-political level, achieved by the Spanish colonies in the nineteenth century and the British and French colonies in the twentieth century. The transition from modern to global colonialism took place without a substantial transformation of binary organizations, such as the economic poles of centre-periphery, thus reproducing political and economic submission. The crisis of the modern condition produced cracks and variables in the historical canon of power that denied multiplicity, superposition or hybridity, making a turn toward increasingly plural global presences. In spite of these changes, the colonial traces of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have endured. Thus, it follows that the decolonial perspective pushes for a culture that is intertwined with decisive effects on ethnic, racial, sexual, epistemic, and gender dimensions. In and of themselves, racial discourses provoke negative consequences in the international labour system, a worrisome aspect for decoloniality.

Racial premises would justify the access of supposedly “superior races”[3] to better offers in the labour market, as opposed to the “inferior races” that would be relegated to badly-remunerated tasks, thus tracing a way of thinking that inherited notions of the nineteenth century. This condition should be examined from a heterarchical perspective, where no level exists that dominates or subjugates others but, instead, there is a multiple and shared influence that works for a new and better paradigm. Let us remember that the idea of heterarchy, developed by sociologist Kyriakis Kontopolous, is antithetical to hierarchy and undertakes the analysis of social structures by including dysfunctional aspects in a partial, discontinuous, and non-homogenous way. Likewise, decoloniality confronts coloniality of knowledge, which is grounded on an economic dimension as well as on mechanisms of social control. As Mignolo (2007) has noted, decolonial thought has been configured as a resistant and different zone from modernity/coloniality itself. In this manner, coloniality exteriorizes the situation of domination of those who have been forcibly submerged in modernity.

Even though the theoretical alignment of the modernity/coloniality group traces differences and relocations with respect to postcolonial studies, they do share its interdisciplinary and deconstructive character with respect to the Eurocentric, colonial paradigm. Mellino (2008) has presented a revision of the term “postcolonial” in order to delineate a genealogy of its repercussions and incidences in the international academic world. He makes a distinction between a literal and a metaphorical interpretation of the concept of postcolonialism. In the first case, it would refer to a “post” moment of decolonization in the political arena, or forms of emancipation from territorial colonization at a given time period; in the second case, there appear far-reaching implications that are not contained within a segment of time. The crucial precedents for this way of thinking are to be found in Edward Said, an intellectual associated with anti-imperialist criticism; in Gayatri Spivak, who detects, in British literature, the echoes of colonialism and imperialism that subsist beyond the multiple cultural meetings, contacts, and shocks between Orient and the West; and in Homi Bhabha, whose expressions of “hybridity” or “the in-between” have endowed us with the capacity to give a name not just to the cultural interstices forged on fluctuating borders, but to new social actors who do not have a fixed locus. Here, postcolonial criticism works through the deconstruction of the Western imperialist subject, exploring the degree of epistemic violence in the narratives that are cast upon cultural alterities.

From Said´s, Spivak´s, and Bhabha´s contributions, the postcolonial paradigm came to be formed as a “desarrollo del pensamiento posmoderno orientado a la crítica cultural y a la deconstrucción de las nociones, de las categorías y de los presupuestos de la identidad moderna occidental en sus más variadas manifestaciones” [development of postmodern thought aimed at cultural criticism and the deconstruction of the notions, categories, and presuppositions of modern Western identity in its most varied manifestations] (Mellino, 2008: 51). For Homi Bhabha, colonial discourse attends to a system of symbols and practices that organize social reproduction in colonial space. According to him, the sense of “post” that is implicit in the term “postcolonialism” refers to a “beyond” and embodies a certain “inquietante energía revisionista” [unsettling revisionist energy] (Bhabha, 2007: 21) that has the ability of transforming the present into a locus of experience and plurality. In this operation (which, in the end, assumes a political stance), culture makes up a seminal dimension, founding a “estrategia de supervivencia es a la vez transnacional y traduccional…” [strategy of survival that is at once transnational and translational…] (2007: 212) and that establishes a space “in-between” that allows for the emergence of hybrid and interstitial cultural signs.


In order to circumscribe the critical tone of the productions generated by the aforementioned artists, let us remember that the tone that preceded conceptualism in Latin America stimulated reflections on the idea of dematerialization. Mari Carmen Ramírez (2004) has pointed out that this cultural project did not depend on centre or metropolitan phenomena, but transcended the opposition “centre-periphery” and accentuated structural and ideological factors over perceptual conditions. A systematic “inversion” occurred through Latin American conceptual experiences with relation to the North American model, given the conditions of marginalization and repression that Latin America experienced in the 1960s and 1970s. The revision of conceptualism in these latitudes obliges us to approach it as “the recovery of an emancipatory project” (Ramírez, 1999: 557). These incipient enunciations predict developments in global conceptual art from an eccentric position, outside or displaced from the centre. Luis Camnitzer underlined certain mechanisms that marked Latin America as a “cultura de resistencia en contra de culturas invasoras” [culture of resistance against invading cultures] (Camnitzer, 2008: 31), whose visual and formal productions pollinated dimensions of the political along with poetry and pedagogy. These sides merged, and the result was a globality that transcended the dichotomy “agitation/construction”: the artist didn’t propose himself as an activist but as a builder of forms, objects, ideas that become embodied in the artwork. There would be a Latin American specificity in contrast with the U.S. conceptual process, observable when taking in account areas such as: the role of dematerialization, pedagogical incidence, the application of the text or literature. For the Latin American case, the process of dematerialization followed a politicized and politicizing condition, more than an aesthetic choice.

Oiticica developed part of his work in the period that immediately preceded as well as during the Brazilian dictatorship. The 1964 Parangolés were capes that were made of ephemeral materials, outside the art circuit. The spectators, besides integrating the work, would make movements in space to the rhythm of Rio de Janeiro samba, thus establishing a dialogue with the surrounding context. In this way, there appeared a new “una experiencia integradora donde la Percepción cumple el doble rol de estructurar y transformar el mundo de lo cotidiano (…)” [integrative experience where Perception has the double role to restructure and transform the quotidian world (…)] (Lucero: 2009a: 2). In 1965, the common denominator among artists and critics was their opposition to the system through protests of a cultural nature, that took place in events such as Propuestas 65 in São Paulo, an event that was similar to Opinião 65 in Rio de Janeiro. These were interdisciplinary exhibits that discussed the fate of the arts after the military coup. Hélio, in Propuestas 66, called this new trend “our objectivity”, thus underlining the avant-garde characteristics of these encounters, as well as promoting a space of experimentalism where subjects could free their imagination and, besides being part of that world, they could also be its creators.

Hélio Oiticica Parangolé P 08 Capa 05 – Mangueira, 1965; P 05 Capa 02, 1965; P 25 Capa 21- Nininha Xoxoba, 1968; P 04 Capa 01, 1964. Image from Ivan Cardoso’s film H.O, 1979. Credits: Catalogue Hélio Oiticica. The Body of Color, 2007, p. 317

Hélio Oiticica Parangolé P 08 Capa 05 – Mangueira, 1965; P 05 Capa 02, 1965; P 25 Capa 21- Nininha Xoxoba, 1968; P 04 Capa 01, 1964. Image from Ivan Cardoso’s film H.O, 1979. Credits: Catalogue Hélio Oiticica. The Body of Color, 2007, p. 317

Tropicália from 1967 was the product of diverse appropriations, which allowed him to advance his environmental agenda, and can be understood as “an idea of a garden for sensory and graphic experiences” (Figuereido, 2007: 118). The notion of anti-art coined by Helio emphasized the artist´s condition as an instigator of creation and that of the spectator as an active participant of the artwork. Anti-art was the response to a collective need in relation to the creative action, that was exempt from intellectual or moral premises: it was man´s simple position within himself, “in his vital creative possibilities” (Oiticica, 1999: 8). Dance was a direct search for the act of expression, and in contrast with ballet´s mechanical choreography, the movement suggested by the dances of carnaval was the equivalent to the exteriorization of the popular element in these communities. The collision with preconceptions related to artistic practices formulated “the connection between the collective and individual expression – the most important step towards this -” (Oiticica, 2006: 106).

Artur Barrio has been a reader of Frantz Fanon (also Oiticica had a translated copy of The Wretched of the Earth). This is an important detail that helps us understand his plastic choices as well as what it means to produce art in the periphery of capitalism. The reference to residues of cheap materials targeted hierarchies and reflected the idea of “economic leftovers”, or edge of the margin. In this sense, “la obra de Barrio incluye estrategias del Conceptualismo apelando al uso de elementos precarios, banales y frágiles, trazando una opción disidente respecto a los materiales industriales de alto costo económico” [Barrio´s ouvre includes conceptualist strategies, that make use of precarious, banal, and fragile elements that delineate a dissident alternative with respect to industrial, high-cost materials] (Lucero, 2009b: 6). The sum of his aesthetic choices constituted the equivalent of an attitude of resistance against others´ control over his own matter. “La postura estético-política de Barrio es una toma de conciencia en relación a la producción del arte en el Tercer mundo como resistencia a la contramodernidad” [Barrio´s aesthetic-political position is an act of conscience with relation to the production of art in the Third World as resistance to countermodernity] (Herkenhoff, 2008: 15), if we understand “countermodern” in Homi Bhabha´s terms, that is, as related to neocolonialism. In this way, Barrio took a clear position before an instance of oppression, that colonized liberty and the senses. In 1969, the artist piled up packages that were toned with blood in one of the rooms of the Modern Art Museum in Rio, that were presented under the title Situação..ORHHH.OU..5.000.T.E..EM.N.Y…CITY: the word “situation” set a deviation from traditional notions of art, while emphasizing an attitude of spatial intervention. One month later, those packages would be taken to the steps of the garden or to the street. The project became more and more extended and in 1970 Barrio deposited the trouxas ensaguentadas on the banks of the river that runs across the City Park (Parque Municipal).

Artur Barrio Trouxas ensanguentadas, in Situação…T/T1; Belo Horizonte, April, 1970; Credits: Inverted Utopias. Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, p. 370

Artur Barrio Trouxas ensanguentadas, in Situação…T/T1; Belo Horizonte, April, 1970; Credits: Inverted Utopias. Avant-Garde Art in Latin America, p. 370

He then packed five-hundred plastic bags with human remains, such as nails or bones that were splattered with bodily fluids, and he placed them in different sites in Rio and Belo Horizonte. The trouxas were, according to Herkenhoff, evidenciadores or “witnesses” that altered or brought a different dynamic to a particular state of affairs. These evidences or demonstrations translated into: operations of repulsion against countermodernity; distributive circuits in the urban and marginal fabric; objects that were “anxious” to force a confrontation with the visceral fear that emanated from the dismembered or gashed organism; visual contaminations, fragmented bodies, paintings, flesh, and finally, living mud. Also in 1970, he did an ambulatory experience that consisted in spending four days and four nights without food or sleep, and just smoking manga rosa, a seed that is grown (sativa) in Brazil that became popular during those years. His body was the physical support for an action that became effective at every moment, in a way that was erratic and to-the-limit. The artist recorded these explorations in perception in a notebook and eight years later he wrote a text defining the term “deambulário” as a one that was written and inscribed on the body (Klinger, 2007).

In Oiticica, the Parangolés provoked an attitude of emancipation in all of the participant´s perceptive dimensions. Each cape provided a different tactile arsenal, with different textures, and colours, promoting a decolonial sense in two ways: the independence involved in dancing with the piece of clothing, and the liberation of showing revolutionary and rebellious phrases: “be marginal, be a hero.” The Tropicália installation generated feelings of provocation and dislocation because it subverted the order of conventional visuality. There, a cultural need irrupted that made it possible for the subaltern to empower and renew himself, while rescuing the symbolic remains that accumulated in the margins and infiltrated the artistic production, an enunciation that was also political and that grew out of a bastard, emergent territory that induced new, contextualized ways of seeing.

Barrio, on the other hand, swept away with the high cost industrial façade while augmenting the symbolic value of throw-aways from the technological circuit. The trouxas ensanguentadas were furtive cargo that reinforced a decolonial strategy, not just because of the precarious and ephemeral materials from which they were made, but because of their subversive wink against despotism and nationalized torture. He reconstructed private cartographies (the location of the packages) as well as public ones, transforming the urban theatre through minimal interventions that were reiterations but also effective. The wandering that went on for days, that put in risk his physical and mental health, opened an erratic channel that, among other things, allowed him to explore his own bodily limits and his autonomy of action – a personal choice that is articulated within the mode of decoloniality.


Why speak of a Latin American modernity that is vexed by fluctuations and paradoxes? From the field of sociology of communication, Roncagliolo (2003) defines the broad concept of modernity through its chronological and cultural aspects. When we think of the beginning of modernity since the end of the fifteenth century (and through the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries), this temporal category designates, in Berman’s words, a whirl of interacting, parallel phenomena. But this series of vertiginous events were directed toward three potential zones: a nucleus of cultural, scientific, and ethical signification; another of a financial and industrial nature; and another with political roots. The voracious development of economic modernization drove forward the accumulation of capital, an action that was stimulated by the colonization that has expanded toward non-Western territories since the fifteenth century. The projection of these modernising trends in Latin America was attempted with great difficulty, The geo-social reality here differed so profoundly from that of Europe: “América Latina fue una región necesaria para la modernización del mundo capitalista, pero ella misma no se modernizó cabalmente” [The Latin American region was necessary for the modernization of the capitalist world, but Latin America itself wasn’t completely modernized] (Roncagliolo, 2003: 114).

Some of these frictions stem from the persistence of unequal degrees of modernization and, as Achúgar (1993) notes—quoting the Mexican writer Fernando Calderón—, Latin America accepted the cohabitation of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern. Mixed temporalities exposed paradoxes in our modernity, which provides the conditions of decoloniality.

I have noted here that decoloniality calls for a cultural, artistic, and intellectual decolonization. As a critical category, it refutes Eurocentric views within the field of culture and confronts the heavy weight of coloniality in the realm of knowledge. It opens other senses which, in confrontation with the cultural mainstream, strengthen contortions that betray, perturb, and invert that mainstream. The chain of signifiers is exposed in the objects themselves: the significances disperse, disseminating in the multiple gazes of the spectators. The cultural movements that began in the 1920s and continued in Latin America, and which became belligerently propelled in the 1960s, fought against this condition of coloniality that was rooted for centuries, allowing for the emergence of a “búsqueda de conformación de plataformas de pensamiento propias” [search in the formation of self-made platforms of thought] (Palermo, 2009: 16).

The restitution of local and regional materials, challenging the official status quo of art, and a deeply politicized visual production, are pivotal characteristics of Oiticica’s and Barrio’s installations. Moving their actions to public or socially neglected areas places these aesthetic versions on an institutional edge. At the same time, these artists proclaim, with a most fervent individual freedom, a cultural act that is fuelled by decoloniality. Both Oiticica and Barrio revealed a nucleus of signification that refers to disruptive gestures that, in turn, transcended legitimated art media channels, slipping beyond the favela, the rua, and the museum. They bore witness to a state of crisis not just in their own social and political context, but also in the notion of modernity itself that, as a local phenomenon, was marked by fluctuations and paradoxes, thus producing a cultural convulsion on the Latin American stage.


ACHUGAR, Hugo. 1993. “Fin de siglo, reflexiones desde la periferia”. In AAVV. Arte Latinoamericano Actual. Exposición, Coloquio. Noviembre de 1993, Museo Juan Manuel Blanes, Montevideo, Uruguay, pp. 85-90.

BHABHA, Homi. 2007. El lugar de la cultura. Ediciones Manantial, Buenos Aires.

CAMNITZER, Luis. 2008. Didáctica de la Liberación. Arte Conceptualista Latinoamericano. HUM, CCE Montevideo, CCE Buenos Aires, Uruguay.

CASTRO-GÓMEZ, Santiago y GROSFOGUEL, Ramón. 2007. El giro decolonial. Reflexiones para una diversidad epistémica más allá del capitalismo global. Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Siglo del Hombre Editores, Colombia.

FIGUEIREDO, Luciano. 2007. “’the world is the museum’: Appropriation and Transformation in the work of Hélio Oiticica”. In Ramírez, Mari Carmen. Hélio Oiticica. The Body of Color. Tate Publishing in Association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, pp. 105-125.

HERKENHOFF, Paulo. 2008. “De un Glosario sobre Barrio (dos apuntes: Tercer mundo y Trouxas)”. In AAVV. Artur Barrio. Catálogo de Exposición. Museo Rufino Tamayo, Colección Jumex, México DF, pp. 15-20.

KLINGER, Diana. 2007. “Artur Barrio y Hélio Oiticica: políticas del cuerpo”. In Garramuño, Florencia, et al. Experiencia, cuerpo y subjetividades. Literatura brasileña contemporánea. Beatriz Viterbo Editora, Rosario, pp. 197-205.

LUCERO, María Elena. 2009a. “Diluyendo los límites. Deslizamientos en la práctica artística de Hélio Oiticica (Brasil)”. In AAVV. I Jornadas Internacionales de Arte. Educación en la Universidad. PICEF. Universidad Nacional de Misiones (UNAM), Oberá. CD-Rom, pp. 1-4.

LUCERO, María Elena. 2009b. “Interpelar la opresión: los disturbios de Artur Barrio y Adriana Varejão”. II Congreso Argentino-Latinoamericano de Derechos Humanos: un Compromiso de la Universidad. Facultad de Humanidades y Artes, Universidad Nacional de Rosario (en prensa).

MELLINO, Miguel. 2008. La Crítica poscolonial. Descolonización, capitalismo y cosmopolitismo en los estudios poscoloniales. Paidós, Buenos Aires.

MIGNOLO, Walter D. 2007. La idea de América Latina. La herida colonial y la opción decolonial. Editorial Gedisa S.A., Barcelona.

OITICICA, Hélio. 1999. “Position and Program”. In Alberro, Alexander; Stimson, Blake (editors). Conceptual Art: a critical anthology. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England, pp. 8-10

OITICICA, Hélio. 2006. “Dance in my Experience (Diary Entries)//1965-66”. In Bishop, Claire (edited by). Participation. Documents of Contemporary Art. Whitechapel London, The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 105-109.

PALERMO, Zulma. 2009. Arte y estética en la encrucijada descolonial. Cuaderno Nº 6, Ediciones del Signo, Buenos Aires.

RAMÍREZ, Mari Carmen. 1999. “Blueprint circuits: Conceptual art and politics in Latin American”. In Alberro, Alexander; Stimson, Blake (editors). Conceptual Art: a critical anthology. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. London, England, pp. 550-562.

RAMIREZ, Mari Carmen. 2004. “Tactics for Thriving on Adversity. Conceptualism in Latin America, 1960-1980”. In Ramírez, Mari Carmen y Olea, Héctor. Inverted Utopias. Avant-Garde Art in Latin America. Yale University Press, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, pp. 425-439.

RONCAGLIOLO, Rafael. 2003. Problemas de la integración cultural: América Latina. Enciclopedia Latinoamericana de Sociocultura y Comunicación, Grupo Editorial Norma, Buenos Aires.

[1] Translated from the original text in Spanish by Laura Catelli. The citations that appeared in Spanish in the original have been kept in the original language of publication and translated in parentheses.

[2] This presentation has been extracted from my Doctoral Dissertation, Approximations to the Construction of a Methodological Device from the Crossing of Disciplines: Analyzing Productions by Tarsila de Amaral and Helio Oiticica from an Anthropological Perspective. Here, decoloniality is formulated as one of the key concepts for the examination of the artworks.

[3] The term “race” is used here in quotation marks in order to highlight its biologicist and determinist sense. Let us take in consideration that the concept will be debated afterwards, given that it connotes a strong colonialist view that stems from the reflections of authors such as Bernier, Gobineau, Buffon, Renan or Le Bon. For more details, see Tzvetan Todorov’s “Race and Racism” in On Human Diversity: Nationalism, Racism, and Exoticism in French Thought (Harvard UP, 1994).

Dr María Elena Lucero teaches at the School of Humanities and Arts, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina. She is Director of CETCACL (Centre of Critical Theoretical Studies of Art and Culture in Latin America), Universidad Nacional de Rosario. She is the author of many publications on Latin American art movements and artists, including Eugenio Dittborn, Cildo Meireles and Adriana Varejão. She has also written widely on pre-Columbian cultures.

Tagore and the West

Chilean academic Claudio Coloma applies Peripheral Thought Theory to the response to Rabindranath Tagore to the Japanese defeat of the Russian forces in 1905.

Frequently, Rabindranath Tagore is known by his artistic work, especially in Latin America. This is demonstrated most obviously in his Nobel Prize in literature. But throughout his life, Tagore also had an important role in the area of non-fiction. Many works were composed to interpret the Indian and Asian political reality during the first half of the twentieth century. It is thanks to these works that it is possible to see the Western influence on Tagorian thought.

It is possible that the Western influence on Tagore’s thought came from two ways. First, Tagore, the Indian man, had to suffer with the European imperialism in Asia, and specifically in India. To have born and lived in a downtrodden people had to be a hard experience when a man, as Tagore, had knowledge about the historic greatness of India as well as of Asia.

Second, in spite of European imperialism, Tagore was able to discriminate between the European domination in Asia (specifically in India) and the virtues of the Western modern thought. In this sense, Tagore admired some Western ideas related to freedom and, in consequence, he was motivated to achieve a better Indian society.

To understand both the impact of European imperialism as the influence of the Western thought ways, it is necessary before to consider briefly the Peripheral Thought Theory[1]. This theory is used systematically to study the non-Western thought formulated especially in the last two hundred years. According to this theory, Europe is called the ‘centre’.

Thus, during this time we have been able to see Western influences and motivations, in cases where peripheral leaders, intellectuals and politicians have gone beyond their own cultural borders in order to think about the future, welfare or development of their own societies. Specifically this kind of thought has been yielded when non-Western thinkers have followed a special feeling of fascination, perplexity or rejection about the centre.

The peripheral intellectual thought has swung between two mainstreams like a pendulum: in one side, there have been intellectuals who have rejected the intellectual and cultural influence from West and at the same time have valued their own social and cultural roots. In the other side, there have been intellectuals who have yielded ideas with the purpose to imitate aspects from West into fields such as policy, economy, or culture.

The first way of the Peripheral Thought is called “Identitario” which means “be like us”, whereas the second way is called “Centralitario” which means “be like the Centre”. According to this theory, this dilemma is the main feature of the non-Western thought and it would be most important than another academic dilemmas such as Negro/White, Rich/Poor or Women/Men, because this kind of oppositions can be analyzed thanks to this two notions of Peripheral Thought Theory.

Another important feature of this theory is that, in spite of that the intellectual peripheral production around the world has rejected or approved the Western culture, at the same time among peripheral intellectuals there have been a common perception that the West is the most powerful social formation.[2]

Some of main works in which we can see the Western influence on Tagore´s non-fiction ideas are “Nationalism”, “Greater India”, “The problem with Non-Cooperation”, “Crisis in Civilization” and “The Spirit of Japan”.

The Impact of the European Imperialism

According to Tagore, Europe had increased its power over Asia. This reality meant humiliation. But paradoxically, this humiliation was not produced by Europe´s dominion over Asia; the root of the humiliation was could be found into Asia.

As one adherent of Pan-Asianism´ ideas, Tagore thought that Asia has been a more successful society than Europe, but this situation changed because Asia stayed in the past without progress; to Tagore Asia “is like a rich mausoleum which displays all its magnificence in trying to immortalize the dead (…) For centuries we did hold torches of civilization in the East when the West slumbered in darkness (…) then fell the darkness of night upon all the lands of the East”.[3]

It was not new say that the West was not guilty, or at least, that West was not the prime culprit for Asian humiliation. Throughout the history of India, several Indian intellectuals, from Rammohan Roy until Hamid Dalway, including Syed Ahmad Khan, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, B.R. Ambedkar, Rammanohar Lohia have written about the roots of problems of India, which in turn were firstly the caste system, religion struggles and gender injustices, and then were problems related with the independence from United Kingdom.[4].

But, the worth of Tagore´s ideas, compared with his countrymen, was his interest on Asia and not only on India, for this reason is important his intention to establish the Pan-Asian movement. In this sense, Tagore´s connection with many intellectuals from the rest of Asia was important, especially with Japan, because this country was an exceptional case after Meiji´s Reforms. Basically, the Japan of Meiji had been the period in which this country was able to successfully achieve "Modernization".[5]

Thanks to its success, Japan became a new magnet to many peripheral intellectuals. There were two Japanese organizations that had a key role in this achievement: Kokuryukay and Genyosha. According to Cemil Aydin, both organizations fostered ties with many nationalists and intellectuals from Asia; one of them was Rabindranath Tagore[6].

The summit of Japanese modernization process was the triumph over Russia at war of 1904-1905. Many intellectuals thought after triumph that it was possible to be free from the Colonization and retake the self-government. The impact of the Russo-Japanese War crossed the East Asia borders and was able to achieve inspiration from leaders of West-Africa, black leaders in the USA, Muslims, Indian, and other peoples.[7]

Thanks to his special relationship with Japanese intellectuals (one of them was the father of Pan-Asianism, Okakura Tenshin) Tagore was not indifferent to the Japanese triumph. In respect of this, Tagore wrote “One morning the whole world looked up in surprise, when Japan broke through her walls of old habits in a night and came out triumphant”.[8]

But he was not totally at ease with the celebrations of Japanese triumph. In fact, Tagore became worried about the Japanese nationalism that strongly emerged after 1905, because nationalism was enemy of heterogeneity of Asia, especially in India. According to Tagore, nationalism was the root of violence. Furthermore, after victory, Japan colonized Manchuria and Korea (1910). According to Tagore, if in India people acquired these kinds of fanaticisms, the consequences could be devastating[9].

Thus, Tagore rejected the Japanese attitude, and by contrast to his first impressions, he stated: “I have given up Japan. I feel more and more sure it is not the country for me”.[10]

What was the reason to declare this? The reason would have been: Japan adopted the modernization with “all its tendencies, methods and structures, and dream that they are inevitable”. That is, thanks to the Meiji Reformsm Japan had to be a new creation and not a mere repetition. To be a copy was like wearing the skeleton with another skin.[11] Their modernization meant a deception because the main difference between Asia and West was the use of wisdom, work and love versus the use of violence.

Despite the deception, the Japanese experience and the contact with West were not always unfortunate facts, because it was possible to understand that the world needed the values of India and of the rest Asian peoples. Thanks to this understanding, it would have been possible re-light the torch of civilization in the East and put an end to humiliation.

Six years before that Tagore wrote “The Spirit of Japan”, where he warned on Japanese menace. He wrote a series of essays (1909-10) about the meeting between India and the Englishman. In these essays Tagore wrote about expectations that India could achieve thanks to its encounter with the West: “On us to-day is thrown the responsibility of building up this greater India, and for that purpose our immediate duty is to justify our meeting with the Englishman. I shall not be permitted to us to say that we would rather remain aloof, inactive, irresponsive, unwilling to give and to take, and thus to make poorer the India that is to be”.[12]

The Tagore´s Respect for Western Thought

Tagore thought that “in the heart of Europe runs the purest stream of human love, of love of justice, of spirit of self-sacrifice for higher ideals (…) in Europe we have seen noble minds who have ever stood up for the rights of man irrespective of colour and creed”. These Europe´ good features were countered with a contrary tendency—“supremely evil in her maleficent aspect where her face is turned only upon her own interest, using all her power”.[13]

Certainly, the concept of freedom was the best aspect of Europe and this notion complemented Indian concerns with injustices related to caste system, the Untouchables´ situation, Muslim-Hindu disputes, and gender differences. In this sense, India had to learn from West.

In addition, Tagore admired the European literature and art for its beauty, because both mean “fertilizing all countries and all time”.[14] According to Tagore, both freedom and culture beauty were seen as an opportunity to get a balance between spirit and material things. But, unfortunately to get this purpose would be difficult thanks to temptations of power. In this sense, reviewing the Japanese experience, this country was a failed instance: “unfortunately, all his armour is not living, some of it is made of steel, inert and mechanical. Therefore, while making use of it, man has to be careful to protect himself from its tyranny”.[15]

One successful instance of benefits of European culture, which in turn was learnt by India, was the reign of law. The law meant the balance between power and freedom, because the British government established order (or at least more stability) and respect among castes, colours and religions. Nonetheless, according to Tagore, this instance would be mirror of the spirit of the West and not of the nation of the West.[16]

To be fair, his estimation of European civilisation did not imply that there was only one alternative. Tagore was concern to be clear on this point. In this sense, his speech entitled “Crisis in civilization” is emphasises the existence many civilizations with noble purposes, such as Japan (despite its failures) Russia, Iran, Afghanistan or China[17].

Finally, reviewing Peripheral Thought Theory and this small sample of Tagore´s ideas, it is possible to state that this Indian intellectual was a man who strove to achieve a balance between ideas from the Centre and the Periphery.

This point is important if it is considered that Tagore is mainly known as a poet and mystic man, at least in Latin America, instead of as a non-fiction author who was able to state original points of view about the encounter between different civilizations.

Thus, the Tagorian thought was able to be “Centralitario” or “Identirario”. His main concern was the thread to the freedom of downtrodden peoples across Asia. Hence Tagore was able to “be like the Centre” or “to be like us”, demonstrating that he had an open mind to understand and to explain the complicated reality of Asia at the first half of past century.

[1] The Peripheral Thought Theory have been proposed in Chile by Eduardo Devés, from the beginning, as an academic parameter to study the Latin American thought throughout the 20th Century, but actually this theory is being used also to research about contemporary Asian and African thoughts, in order to achieve a global perspective and a best understanding about the non-Western thought. Eduardo Devés Valdés, “El Pensamiento Latinoamericano en el siglo XX”, 3 volúmenes, Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires, 2000-2004.

[2] Devés Valdés, Eduardo, “Las disyuntivas del pensamiento latinoamericano y periférico”, Seminario de Investigación Interdisciplinaria. Facultad de Estudios Generales, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Río Piedras. Ciclo de conferencias Octubre-Diciembre 2006. p.1.

[3] Tagore, Rabindranath, “Nationalism”, Norwood Press, USA, 1917, p.65-66.

[4] These priorities can be demonstrated in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010.

[5] Understanding “Modernization” as a concept from the West.

[6] Cemil Aydin, “The politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia”, Columbia University Press, USA, 2007, p.57.

[7] Coloma, Claudio, “Disyuntiva y reivindicaciones periféricas ante el impacto de la Guerra Ruso-Japonesa”, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Santiago de Chile, 2010.

[8] Tagore, Rabindranath, “The Spirit of Japan”. Sisir Kumar Das editor, “The English writings of Rabindranath Tagore, volume three, a Miscellany”, Sahitya Akademy Edition, New Delhi, 1996.

[9] Sen, Amartya, “Tagore y la India”, Fractal nº10, julio-septiembre, 1998, año 3, volumen III, pp. 121-168.

[10] Rabindranath Tagore´s letter addressed to C.F. Andrews, 11th June, 1915, cited by Patrick Colm Hogan & Lalita Pandit, editors, “Rabindranath Tagore: universality and tradition”, Associated University Press, USA, 2003, p.47.

[11] Op.cit.

[12] Rabindranath Tagore, essay includes in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010, p. 189.

[13] Op.cit, p.195.

[14] Op.cit, p.194.

[15] Rabindranath Tagore, “The Spirit of Japan”,, 1916, p.5.

[16] Rabindranath Tagore, essay includes in Ramachandra Guha´s book entitled “Makers of Modern India”, Penguin Books, India, 2010, p. 198-199.

[17] Rabindranath Tagore, speech includes in the Rakesh Batabyal´s book entitled “The Penguin Book of Modern Indian Speeches: 1877 to the Present”, Penguin Books, India, 2007, p.453-459.

A new optimism across the Pacific

Australian film-maker John Hughes reports on this year’s Pacific Documentary Film Festival finds new dialogues opening up between islands, languages and cultures.

Fortuitous circumstances (for me, not so much for Harriet) led to an invitation to Tahiti to join the jury of the Pacific Documentary Film Festival FIFO in late January 2011, standing in for the Australian Director’s Guild’s Harriet McKern. At short notice Harriet had to decline FIFO’s offer due to pressing work commitments with the fast approaching ADG Conference. My hesitation took about as long as it takes a falling coconut to hit the ground cracking.

FIFO is in its 8th year and is expanding its horizons. This year the festival hosted a pitch session (for the 2nd time), screenings of short films from the region, a (drama) script development workshop, and a conference on regional media and broadcasting. The short films screening included a number of Australian films. FIFO has developed a partnership with the French Cabourg International Film Festival, and this year screened Cabourg’s 2010 prize winning feature and short drama. Australian films have traditionally done well at FIFO; last year a major prize went to Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Bastardy, and Charlie Hill-Smith’s Strange Birds in Paradise was among the films screened.

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

This year there were 15 documentaries selected for competition and around 30 screened out of competition. The screenings were very well attended, with most films screening on three or four occasions over the six days of the festival. Filmmakers from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and elsewhere in the region attended. A number of Australian films were selected and two won major awards. The Jury’s Grand Prix went to Contact (Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, 78 minutes, 2009) and one of the three Special Jury Prizes went to Kuru: the Science and the Sorcery (Rob Bygott, 52 minutes, 2010). The other two Jury prize winners were New Zealand films. Trouble is My Business (Juliette Veber, 83 minutes, 2009), an observatory documentary dealing with the travails of an energetic vice-principal in an East Auckland school looking after Islander and Maori students and This Way of Life (Thomas Burstyn, 86 minutes, 2009), a sympathetic portrait of struggles and utopian life-style of Maori Christian couple Peter and Colleen Karena, their six kids and 50 horses, as they deal with family trauma in New Zealand’s idyllic Ruahine Mountains.

The People’s Choice audience award went to Lucien Kimitete (Dominique Agniel, 52 minutes, 2010), a Canal+ television account of the life and work of a much loved Marquesas politician and activist who disappeared along with his colleague Boris Léontieff and two associates when their small plane crashed into the sea in May 2002. No wreckage from the plane was ever found. The film acknowledges that many people in the region harbour suspicions about the plane’s disappearance, as Lucien Kimitete and Boris Léontieff were expected to assume power in immanent elections and their effective advocacy of local self-determination threatened the status quo. It is not an investigative film, but rather a wistful celebration of Lucien’s dedication that inspired a generation with the transformative power of traditional Marquesas culture.

FIFO is deeply engaged with these questions of culture and identity across Oceania and particularly alert to the role of documentary and other media forms to the future of French Polynesia. Environmental issues are urgent – last year’s Grand Prix went to a New Zealand film on global warming in the region There Once was an Island: Te Henua E Noho (Briar March, 80 minutes, 2010) – development, underdevelopment and social issues associated with economic uncertainty are balanced against the struggle to sustain a variety of Polynesian cultural identities. ‘Authenticity’, identity politics and self-determination across Oceania animate FIFO’s purpose. Take the Australian prize winners. Bentley Dean’s Contact is a beautifully realised cinematic essay reminding us that among the histories shared by the peoples of Oceania is the devastating encounter of Indigenous peoples with European culture, and in particular its weapons of mass destruction; themes clearly recognizable in French Polynesia.

Still from Kuru

Still from Kuru

Dealing in cannibalism, sorcery, scientific animal experimentation and ‘white man’s magic’ Rob Bygott’s Kuru boldly enters treacherous story territories of anthropology and colonialism in Papua New Guinea without a skerrick of vulnerability to accusations of ‘Orientalism’. The film delivers a deeply moving account of the value of meticulous ethnographic documentation and rigorous scientific curiosity that resulted in the discovery of a new mode of long gestation transmissible disease. The film works through conventions of the science and history specialist factual genre; but here the filmmaker has nourished the documentary content, transcending the tendency of specialist factual to flatten emotional engagement. Rob Bygott’s treatment has deployed shockingly confronting archival footage against warmly intimate testimony from the Fore people of New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, and this combined with the persuasive humanitarianism and dedication of the film’s main protagonist Michael Alpers, offers an intellectually rich and intriguing narrative beyond both cultural and genre boundaries. The film becomes an exemplary instance of cross-cultural communications where an Indigenous community of Oceania are at the centre of the world.

New Zealanders or Australians made most of the films in competition this year, and were most prominent in the documentary program and short films screened. Much of the work originating locally owes a lot to magazine television. The Polynesian world is abundantly rich in powerful documentary stories. Local people may not yet have had an opportunity to gather together the resources necessary to articulate their own stories in their own documentary voices. Which brings me to the conferences.

The (3rd) ‘Digital Encounters Polynesia’ conference and (5th) Pacific Television Conference held in conjunction with FIFO delivered results. Digital broadcast has recently extended Polynesia’s television offerings, with the familiar attendant questions of ‘choice’ and cultural sovereignty. And a newly installed underwater cable (‘Honotua’) owned by the French Polynesian Telco offers potential for greater broadband communications. This is the context in which there was an agreement signed between France Televisions and the ABC that will allow, among other arrangements, the two biggest media organisations in the Pacific to share footage and content recorded in the field, which will allow for a much greater diversity of content. This will increase both English and French content in the Pacific and has been a long time coming. The deal will allow more stories from English language Pacific nations to make their way to French Polynesia and also provide mechanisms for more stories from the region to make their way back into Australia. Arrangements are in train to establish a syndicate, led by the ABC that will collate and share stories and raw footage from local and regional broadcasters. The conference also resolved to work toward a Pacific film fund to act as an incentive encouraging more independent film production from the diverse Pacific nations. This may take a little longer.

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

At FIFO this year the ABC was well represented by Radio Australia. Neither SBS nor ABC TV participated in the festival, conferences or the pitch environment. However New Zealand’s Maori TV provided an encouraging model of progressive television in the region. FIFO Jury member and Head of Programming at Maori TV Carol Hirschfeld is a strong supporter of documentary. She recognises the opportunities that creative documentary offers for informed dialogue across the region.

For Maori television documentaries are absolutely vital. Our two main free to air broadcasters in New Zealand are increasingly divesting themselves ­or choosing not to run documentaries – so this is an area (…) we can grow. We are the only free to air broadcaster that has a documentary slot for both local and international documentaries. So in the next five years I see our channel as being the dominant free to air broadcaster of documentaries in New Zealand; that is why a festival such as FIFO (…) will help us fulfil that in the next five years. (Carol Hirschfeld)

Australian documentary filmmakers may envy this commitment. Overall there is a sense of optimism as new networks of culturally diverse media production and distribution emerge across the region. These kinds of events are always eye-openers. We have tended to assume Australia as a kind of European outpost in the Asia-Pacific geography. There is another welcome perspective available in this Oceania imaginary so generously hosted by FIFO.

Apart from the warm and convivial hospitality from the festival, non-stop inspiring meetings with the like-minded from around the world and the region, and the exquisite tropical island environments, what’s a take-home message from FIFO? Don’t miss it, it will do you good. Thanks heaps Harriet; I owe you.

Originally written for the ADG (Australian Director’s Guild) newsletter